Do not be afraid….! Tamales are not as hard as you might think. Yes it will take a little practice to get them down to an exact science, and they do take a bit of time, but they’re well worth the effort. Our family looks at them as a great way to spend some quality time together. From the kids to granny, everyone can get the hang of tamale making. Half the fun, in fact, is getting to laugh and talk while the job gets done. When my kids were young the whole herd of us (husband, grandma, two kids, and a few friends) got together to make a huge batch for the holidays.
The dough and filling go together in little time. The quantity you’re making will determine how many minions you should recruit. I had two minions to help with the batch you see in the steamer. One had never made tamales before, and it still only took 45 minutes for the wrapping process. Once you have the technique mastered, it goes quickly.
The masa is a blank slate that is easy to experiment with. Imagine, for example, a dessert tamale with cinnamon in the dough, filled with apples and cream cheese. My daughter would be thrilled with cheese-filled tamale topped with cheese sauce. I think a fajita tamale would be scrumptious; now that I’m thinking of it, that may turn up as a recipe soon.
The reason I decide to make tamales is how yummy they turn out, but what always stands out in the end is how much fun I have being with friends and family. Someone may get dough in their hair, and there is a good chance something will be dropped for the dog, and no two tamales will look alike, but we will all have fun and no one will go away without eating more than they planned.
- 2 c water
- 1 tbs bacon drippings (sub olive oil, butter, lard, or oil of choice)
- 1 tbs chicken base (or use chicken broth instead of water and base)
- 2 1/2 c instant masa
- I doubled this for the filling recipe below
Warm 1 cup water and dissolve chicken base and bacon drippings. Once dissolved, add the rest of the water or broth and the masa harina in a medium size bowl. Mix well until soft dough forms, form into a ball (should be smooth without cracks, if there are cracks then add a tablespoon of water at a time and mix until smooth) then wrap in plastic wrap until filling is ready.
Prep Corn Husks
- 1-2 packages of dry corn husks
- Large pot of boiling water
Open package of husks and check them for any silk strands or mildewed sheets. Discard any that are mildewed (usually a couple in every package). Discard any silk strands, then add to pot of boiling water. turn off heat and cover with a lid. soak for at least 1/2 hour, and longer if possible. Check for pliability; they should be able to be rolled without splitting. Rinse with cool water and stack in a neat pile with small ends facing the same direction (makes wrapping easier). Squeeze out as much water as possible, stand on end in a bowl to let drain more while preparing filling.
- 2 lbs chicken breast cooked and chopped (use dark meat if you prefer. I use the 2 pound bags of rotisserie chicken breast that Costco carries in their deli area)
- 2 med onions quartered and sliced thin
- 1 to 2 tbs olive oil or coconut oil to saute
- 1 sm can green chiles
- 1 c salsa verde
- 1 tbs ground cumin
- A pinch of ground chipotle, more if you like heat
- 1 tsp each garlic and onion powder
- 1/2 c water to keep moist
- 2 cans black beans rinsed and drained
- 2 tsp dried parsley or cilantro (if fresh add 2 tbs)
- Cheese is optional, I chose to make these without
Saute onions over medium heat with a little oil to keep from sticking, in large skillet until translucent, then add chicken, cumin, green chiles, salsa, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, and enough water to keep from being dry and crumbly. Last, add the beans, stir well, and remove from heat. To save your fingers let cool for a few minutes before filling corn husks.
Now you are ready to rock and roll. Gather everyone willing and set up an assembly line (I recommend doubling or tripling the recipe so you can freeze some of the tamales).
Take a husk and feel both sides. One will have deep ridges and the other will be smoother; you want to put the masa on the smoother side. I place the wide end of the husk away from me and the small end closer. Use a large tbs of the dough and starting in the upper large corner spread 1/2 to 3/4 the of the way to the opposite side and 3/4ths of the way to the bottom.
The dough should be even and fairly thin; close enough counts. If you run out of dough it is easy enough to make more (leftover dough can be rolled out into a tortilla). You need a tail to fold at the bottom and a side edge to roll over the tamale so it will stay wrapped. Each husk is different in size so the amount of dough and filling will vary. If the dough is not sticking then dry the husk more.
Along the edge of the husk and dough, place a thin line of filling. Put in enough filling so that when you roll the tamale it will be encased with dough — after a couple you will easily get the hang of it all. Roll the husk starting from the edge with the filling and ending with the bare husk wrapping around. On the seam side fold up the tail, pressing to flatten slightly. Lay the tamale seam and tail down on a cookie sheet or large platter. It works best to keep all tamales facing same way as you work.
When done wrapping all the tamales, they are ready to be steamed. If you have a
tamale steamer pot add water up to the steamer shelf and pack the tamales in tightly with open top facing up. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium, steaming for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. If you do not have a tamale pot you can use a large pot with an open steamer basket ( those metal things that open up and have little feet). I Used my spaghetti pot with the strainer insert. Use whatever system you have that will allow water to steam but not touch the cooking tamales. Check them a few times to be sure your water is not evaporated and refill as necessary. They are done when the dough feels firm.
- 1 small can tomato paste
- 2 1/2 c water
- 1/2 c tequila (or chicken broth)
- 2 tbs taco seasoning
- 2 tsp cocoa powder
- 2 tsp cumin powder
- 2 tbs lemon juice
- 2 tbs olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Chipotle powder to taste for heat
- (you can substitute 1 large can of prepared enchilada sauce, but where’s the fun in that?)
In a small saucepan add all ingredients and whisk over medium heat till bubbly. Serve over hot tamales. Some extras you can top your tamales with: sour cream, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, diced avocado, hot sauce, extra tomatillo sauce, and/or sliced jalapenos.